Baseball / Sports

Los Angeles Angels shortstop Erick Aybar snags a soft pop off the bat of the Seattle Mariners' Mike Zunino in the third inning at Safeco Field in Seattle on Thursday, May 29, 2014. (Dean Rutz/Seattle Times/MCT)

No Pujols, no problem as Angels top Mariners, 7-5

SEATTLE--That's what tablesetters are supposed to do.

The top three hitters in the Angels' order reached base 11 times Thursday, helping the team handle Albert Pujols' first day off of the season in a 7-5 victory over the Seattle Mariners.

Kole Calhoun, back in the leadoff spot for the first time since he came off the disabled list last week, drew two walks and had two hits, and he scored three runs.

Calhoun, who had been 1 for 19 since he came back, said the move back to leadoff might help him be more disciplined.

"It makes me take some pitches and really see the ball," Calhoun said before the game. "It gives me a chance to track the ball well and feel what a guy's got instead of being a little too aggressive."

Erick Aybar, batting in the No. 2 spot because Mike Trout was moved down into Pujols' normal No. 3 spot, drove in four runs, including three on his fourth homer of the year. Aybar has 30 RBI, more than halfway to his career high of 59.

Trout had his first three-hit game since April 15, and he drove in two runs.

At the other end of the order, C.J. Cron and Grant Green continued their impressive showing as they fight for what is likely to be one roster spot when Josh Hamilton comes off the disabled list, possibly next week.

Cron had three hits, including a double and a triple. Green had an RBI single and he made a diving catch in left field to save a run, another sign that he's adjusting to the new position.

"I think you are seeing the athleticism help him to play the position and make plays," Manager Mike Scioscia said before the game. "You are also seeing some of the inexperience that you would expect to see. You just have to learn on the fly with a couple things, but I think overall he's done very well in left field."

Matt Shoemaker picked up the victory, allowing three runs in 51/3 innings. Shoemaker buzzed through the first nine Seattle hitters in order, but the Mariners started to hit him the second time through the order so Scioscia went to the bullpen in the sixth.

Kevin Jepsen, Mike Morin, Joe Smith got the game to the ninth. Fernando Salas, who entered with a four-run lead, gave up a two-run homer, creating a save situation for Ernesto Frieri.

Showdown with A's

Let the pennant race begin.

While the calendar is still on the final days of May, it's never too early to have a big series. That's just what the Angels face Friday, as they go to Oakland for the first time this season. They haven't seen the first-place Athletics in six weeks.

"It's early in the season, but any time you play your division rivals it's huge," Angels catcher Hank Conger said. "We're not dumb. We know they're in first place. It's early, but it's important. It's going to be a big test for us to get a gauge of where we stand."

That would be second place. Thanks to the Texas Rangers' injuries, the Seattle Mariners' general inconsistency and the Houston Astros' youth, the AL West looks like it might be a two-team race.

The Angels will play the A's in six of their next 12 games, including a series at Angel Stadium on June 9-11.

"I don't think it's too early for a big series," Kole Calhoun said. "They are going to be huge."

The A's have won the division two years in a row, each time defying expectations. Even with that recent track record, they have been somewhat of a surprise this year because they've played so well despite the loss of two of their top starters, Jarrod Parker and A.J. Griffin. Still, the A's have bolted to first place, with the best run-differential in the game.

"They're a team, man," Calhoun said. "They're a team, in every aspect. They all believe in each other. They all go out and play baseball together. That's what teams do. They've been doing it for some years now."

Added Conger: "Hopefully they get the credit they deserve considering what they've done the past two years. The biggest thing that is pretty noticeable is they grind. They don't waste at-bats. They are hard-nosed. They are always pretty much in it to the ninth."

When they met last month at Angel Stadium, they played three one-run games, including two extra-inning games. The A's won two of three. Since the start of 2013, 10 of their 22 meetings have been decided by one or two runs.

(c)2014 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)

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